Walking Through September

I am starting and ending this month with walking. At the beginning it was hiking through Colorado with a Japanese tour group; at the end walking through Japanese forests on a 10-day journey up the Nakasendo Way. Neither trip is new, yet I love each and continue to learn about myself as I journey. Both trips feel like stepping stones, essential experiences required to move on to bigger and better things.

Hiking up Mt. Elbert with my mom and the Japanese group

Hiking up Mt. Elbert with my mom and the Japanese group

I also did some running in the middle of the month, namely in the form of the Tournament of Champions pickleball tournament held in Brigham City, Utah. I was fortunate enough to win a singles and a men’s doubles title (and accompanying cash), although it wasn’t quite the accomplishment that my dad’s triple crown victory was. Thanks to my partners, the tournament organizers, friends, and everyone else who made the tournament stand out. Even last year, I never could have imagined I would be doing what I am doing today.

Looking ahead, October is going to be insane – but good. Finishing my current walking tour on the 3rd, I begin another one on the 7th in Kyoto. I end 10 days later, when I take a bullet train to meet my college roommate and his wife in Ueda, the town where I spent most of my childhood. We will do some hiking in the area, before I return to Tokyo to meet my parents and the participants of the first ever pickleball tour of Japan (with many more to come). I am so excited and thankful for this year’s participants for believing in us and being willing to spend the time and money to plant the sport in a new country. It makes a huge difference. On the second to last day of the tour, I return to Kyoto to begin a final Walk Japan tour, before flying back to Phoenix to play in the USAPA national pickleball tournament in Arizona.


Rice Fields and Cosmos Flowers in the Kiso Valley

Let me say a final word and contemplate a bit on life where I am at the moment. It’s Autumn in Japan, my favorite season. The leaves in the mountains are just starting to show a hint of color. There is a coolness in the evening air and a dampness to the fallen leaves. Massive Fuji Apples are appearing in the grocery stores and every day as I walk, I secretly nab at least one ripe persimmon from trees weighed down by them. I hope no one minds. I love this seasonality. I’m sure living in the tropics (or Arizona for that matter) has its perks, but there is something about making it through the summer that makes you appreciate the coolness of the Fall so much more.

It makes me think that joy can’t be experienced fully without some pain and that perhaps life isn’t about avoiding the pain. Maybe it’s about taking in these short moments and deciding to find good in everything – because it’s there if you look for it. The last few years have not been without their difficulties. Even though I don’t show many things on the surface, I often had doubts about where I was going, didn’t have a great attitude and was angry that I wasn’t as successful or with it as other people my age. But with some wisdom that comes from making mistakes and the help of people around me, I am discovering that no matter what I’m doing, there is joy to be found and pride to be taken in doing something well. It helps that I am discovering what I love doing and have the resources to pursue it, something that very few people can say. That’s my philosophical thought of the month, some of the things I think about as I walk many hours through the Kiso Valley


The Lessons Learned from Blood-Sucking Leaches and Other Adventures as a Tour Guide

Without challenging experiences our stories probably wouldn’t be worth telling. The last three months of walking the Nakasendo Way have been a time of fascination as I walked through the rural landscapes of mountainous central Japan, challenge as I completed the journey 6 times en route to covering almost 1,000 kilometers on foot, increased knowledge as I was forced to learn about the history, politics, random facts etc. of this place, personal growth as I learned to solve problems as they arose and manage a group of 12 people at a time with differing personalities, walking abilities, ages, and finally contemplation as I considered my place in this wide world, particularly in this country. Here are a few lessons I have learned along the way…

1. Bring Bug Spray

In the mountains between Karuizawa and Yokokawa lies a pleasant forest path that winds gently downwards for 7 or 8 kilometers through the woods. Last week, this saunter through the forest turned into a mad dash as our group discovered blood-sucking leaches that worked their way into shoes, through socks up legs and even into shirts. It was the stuff of nightmares. They would latch on from both ends, and when pulled off, the anti-coagulant they inject to thin your blood means you don’t stop bleeding.  I now know that for some reason they congregate on that part of the trail, and that they come out in the summer when it’s been raining. I don’t know if bug spray would have helped, but next time I’m bringing it… and taking a different trail.

The eerie Forest of Leeches

The eerie Forest of Leeches

2. The Importance of the Cost-Benefit Analysis

Our trip along the Nakasendo Way involves several train rides. Most of these are commuter trains, but a couple involve bullet trains. One day, after walking 15 kilometers and arriving at the bullet train station, I purchased non-reserved seats for my group, thinking there would be seats open. I even added that I had never not gotten a seat before. Never say unnecessary things like that because the laws of the universe will suddenly intervene to conspire against you. As the bullet train pulled up to the station, I could see people standing in the isles… After pushing our way in, we had to stand for the entire journey amidst the crush of sweaty humanity. I reasoned that everyone was getting the “real Japanese experience” but for an additional $5.00, I have purchased reserved seats every time since.

3. Let People Get Lost, but Not Too Lost

Some people like getting lost. They don’t want to feel like they are on a group tour. My challenge as the leader is managing the tortoises and the hares so that everyone arrives around the same time while making things interesting for everyone. I instruct the sprinters to stop at road crossings, significant landmarks, or whenever they are not 100% sure of the way. Many of them still manage to get lost, but at that point it’s their choice. Somewhere between micromanaging and letting people lead their own tour, there is a perfect balance of letting people get just lost enough that they have fun, but it scares them just enough to make them wait at the crossing the next time.

IMG_08164. Be a Story Teller

People are interested in stories about other people. In Japan’s Edo Period (1600-1868), there was an Imperial Princess named Kazunomiya who was forced to marry the Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi in Edo (now Tokyo). Lamenting her loss of friends and family in Kyoto, she traveled the mountains and passes of the Nakasendo with an entourage of 25,000 servants, guards, peasants and porters, supposedly writing a haiku poem along the way about sad and lonely she was. She was carried in a palanquin the entire way and because our tour walks this same trail, people are fascinated by her story… and the poor porters who had to carry her!

5. Make Time for the Little Stuff and the Normal People

The best part of any holiday is finding the little places, and meeting the normal people who make those places special. Consistently the most popular places that I take people include a random French pastry/tea shop in the mountains called La Province, a community gathering of the elderly who serve us toast and bananas in the tiny little village of Hosokute, and the retired couple in the mountains who make miso pizza, perform local folk songs and have a full miniature train set.

That’s it for now. I’m on to my next adventure, Thailand, where I will be busily doing nothing for the next 10 days. Then it’s back to the States for the summer! Please stay tuned